Last Light Over Carolina
Every woman in the sultry South Carolina low country knows the unspoken fear that clutches the heart every time her man sets out to sea. Now, that fear has become a terrible reality for Carolina Morrison. Her husband, shrimp boat captain Bud Morrison, is lost and alone somewhere in the vast Atlantic fishing grounds, with a storm gathering and last light falling. Over the course of one terrifying, illuminating day, Carolina looks back across thirty years of love and loss, joy and sorrow: How she rejected a well-to-do upbringing to marry Bud and embrace his extraordinary lifestyle by the sea . . . how hard times and loneliness have driven them apart . . . and how, with one mistake, she may have shattered their once-unbreakable bond forever. While their the close-knit community rallies together to search for one of its own, Carolina knows their love must somehow call him home, across miles of rough water and unspeakable memories.
New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe explores a vanishing feature of the southern coastline, the mysterious yet time-honored shrimping culture, in a compelling tale of a strong woman struggling to prove that love is a light that never dies.
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||327 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
September 21, 2008, 4:00 a.m.
McClellanville, South Carolina
For three generations, the pull of the tides drew Morrison men to the sea. Attuned to the moon, they rose before first light to board wooden shrimp boats and head slowly out across black water, the heavy green nets poised like folded wings. Tales of the sea were whispered to them in their mothers' laps, they earned their sea legs as they learned to walk, and they labored on the boats soon after. Shrimping was all they knew or ever wanted to know. It was in their blood.
Bud Morrison opened his eyes and pushed back the thin cotton blanket. Shafts of gray light through the shutters cast a ragged pattern against the wall. He groaned and shifted his weight in an awkward swing to sit at the edge of his bed, head bent, feet on the floor. His was a seaman's body hard-weathered and scarred. He scratched his jaw, his head, his belly, a morning ritual, waking slowly in the leaden light. Then, with another sigh, he stiffly rose. His knees creaked louder than the bedsprings, and he winced at aches and pains so old he'd made peace with them. Standing, he could turn his bad knee to let it slip back into place with a small pop.
A salty wind whistled through the open window, fluttering the pale curtains. Bud walked across the wood floor to peer out at the sky. He scowled when he saw shadowy, fingerlike clouds clutching the moon in a hazy grip.
Bud turned toward the voice. Carolina lay on her belly on their bed, her head to the side facing an open palm. Her eyes were still closed.
"Not too bad," he replied in a gravelly voice.
She stirred, raising her hand to swipe a lock of hair from her face. "I'll make your breakfast." She raised herself on her elbows, her voice resigned.
"Nah, you sleep."
His stomach rumbled, and he wondered if he was some kind of fool for not nudging his wife to get up and make him his usual breakfast of pork sausage and biscuits. Lord knew his father never gave his mother a day off from work. Or his kids, for that matter. Not during shrimping season. But he was not his father, and Carolina had a bad tooth that had kept her tossing and turning half the night. She didn't want to spend money they didn't have to see the dentist, but the pain was making her hell on wheels to live with, and in the end, she'd have to go anyway.
He'd urged her to go but she'd refused. It infuriated Bud that she wouldn't, because it pointed to his inability to provide basic services for his family. This tore him up inside, a feeling only another man would understand.
They'd had words about it the night before. He shook his head and let the curtain drop. Man, that woman could be stubborn. No, he thought, he'd rather have a little peace than prickly words this morning.
"I'm only going out for one haul," he told her. "Back by noon, latest."
"Be careful out there," she replied with a muffled yawn as she buried her face back into the pillows.
He stole a moment to stare at the ample curves of her body under the crumpled sheet. There was a time he'd crawl back into the scented warmth of the bed he'd shared with Carolina for more than thirty years. Even after all that time, there was something about the turn of her chin, the roundness of her shoulders, and the earthy, fulsome quality of her beauty that still caused his body to stir. Carolina's red hair was splayed out across the pillow, and in the darkness he couldn't see the slender streaks of gray that he knew distressed her. Carolina was not one for hair color or makeup, and Bud liked her natural, so the gray stayed. Lord knew his own hair was turning gray, he thought, running his hand over his scalp as he headed for the bathroom.
Bud took pride in being a clean man. His hands might be scraped, his fingernails broken and discolored, but they were scrubbed. Nothing fancy or scented. He tugged the gold band from his ring finger, then slipped it on a gold chain and fastened it around his neck. He didn't wear his ring on his hand on the boat, afraid it would get caught in the machinery. The cotton pants and shirt he slipped on were scrupulously laundered, but no matter what Carolina tried, she couldn't get rid of the stains. Or the stink of fish. This was the life they'd chosen.
As he brushed his teeth, he thought the face that stared back at him looked older than his fifty-seven years. A lifetime of salt and sea had navigated a deep course across his weathered face. Long lines from the eyes down to his jaw told tales of hard hours under a brutal sun. A quick smile brightened his eyes like sunshine on blue water. Carolina always told him she loved the sweet smell of shrimp on his body. It had taken her years to get used to it, but in time she'd said it made her feel safe. He spat out the toothpaste and wiped his smile with the towel. What a woman his Carolina was. God help him, he still loved her, he thought, tossing the towel in the hamper and cutting off the light.
Carolina's face was dusky in the moonlight. He walked to the bedside and bent to kiss her cheek good-bye, then paused, held in check by the stirring of an old resentment. The distance to her cheek felt too far. Sighing, he drew back. Instead, he lifted the sheet higher over her shoulders. Soundlessly, he closed the door.
He rubbed his aching knee as he made his way down the ancient stairs. The old house was dark, but he didn't need a light to navigate his way through the narrow halls. White Gables had been in Carolina's family since 1897 in a town founded by her ancestors. When they weren't working on the boat, they were working to infuse new life into the aged frame house, repairing costly old woodwork and heart pine floors, fighting an interminable battle against salt, moisture, and termites. His father often chided him about it, telling him it was like throwing more sand on a beach eaten away by a strong current. In his heart, Bud knew the old man was right, but Carolina loved the house and the subject of leaving it was moot. Even in the dim light, he saw evidence of it in the shine of the brass doorknobs, the sparkle of the windows, and the neat arrangement of the inherited threadbare sofa and chairs. Every morning when he walked through the silent old house, he was haunted by the worry that he'd cause Carolina to be the last of her family to live here.
Bud went straight to the kitchen and opened the fridge. He leaned against the cool metal, staring in, searching for whatever might spark his appetite. With a sigh he grabbed a six-pack and shut the door. The breakfast of champions, he thought as he popped open a can of beer. The cool brew slaked his thirst, waking him further. Then he grabbed a few ingredients from the pantry and tossed them in a brown bag: onions, garlic, potatoes, grits, coffee. Pee Dee would cook up a seaman's breakfast later, after the haul. He added the rest of the beer.
At the door he stuck his feet into a pair of white rubber boots, stuffing his pants tightly inside the high rims. The Red Ball boots with their deep-grooved soles and high tops were uniform for shrimpers. They did the job of keeping him sure-footed on a rolling deck and prevented small crabs from creeping in. He rose stiffly, rubbing the small of his back. Working on the water took its toll on a man's body with all the falls, twists, and heavy lifting.
"Stop complaining, old woman," he scolded himself. "The sun won't wait." He scooped up the brown bag from the table, flipped a cap onto his head, and headed out of the house.
The moon was a sliver in the dark sky and his heels crunched loudly along the gravel walkway. Several ancient oaks, older than the house, lined their property along Pinckney Street. Their low-hanging branches lent a note of melancholy.
The air was soft this early in the morning. Cooler. The rise and fall of insects singing in the thick summer foliage sounded like a jungle chorus. He got in his car and drove a few blocks along narrow streets. McClellanville was a small, quaint village along the coast of South Carolina between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. There had once been many similar coastal towns from North Carolina to Florida, back when shrimping was king and a man could make a good living for his family. In his own lifetime, Bud had seen shrimping villages disappear as the value of coastal land skyrocketed and the cost of local shrimp plummeted. Docks were sold and the weathered shrimp boats were replaced by glossy pleasure boats. Local families who'd fished these waters for generations moved on. Bud wondered how much longer McClellanville could hold on.
His headlights carved a swath through the inky darkness, revealing the few cars and pickup trucks of captains and crews parked in the lot. He didn't see Pee Dee's dilapidated Ford. Bud sighed and checked the clock on his dashboard. It was 4:30 a.m. Where the hell was that sorry excuse for a deckhand?
He followed the sound of water slapping against the shore and the pungent smell of diesel fuel, salt, and rotting fish toward the dock. Drawing close, he breathed deep and felt the stirring of his fisherman's blood. He felt more at home here on the ramshackle docks than in his sweet-smelling house on Pinckney Street. Gone were the tourists, the folks coming to buy local shrimp, and the old sailors who hung around retelling stories. In the wee hours of morning, the docks were quiet save for the fishermen working with fevered intensity against the dawn. Lights on the trawlers shone down on the rigging, colored flags, and bright trim, lending the docks an eerie carnival appearance.
His heels reverberated on the long avenue of rotting wood and tilting pilings that ran over mudflats spiked with countless oysters. Bud passed two trawlers the Village Lady and the Miss Georgia, their engines already churning the water. He quickened his step. The early bird catches the worm, he thought, lifting his hand in a wave. Buster Gay, a venerable captain and an old mate, returned the wave with his free hand, eyes intent on his work.
There were fewer boats docked every year, dwindling from fifteen to seven in as many years. Of these, only five would be heading out today. Roller-coaster fuel prices and the dumping of foreign shrimp on the market made it hardly worth taking out the boat anymore. Captains were selling their boats.
Bud continued down the dock, sidestepping bales of rope, holes in the planks, and hard white droppings from gulls. As he passed, he took note of one boat's chipping paint, another's thick layer of rust. Every boat had a distinctive look. Each had a story.
"Hey, Bud," called out LeRoy Simmons as he passed. "Looks like rain coming."
"Yep," Bud replied, looking up to the deck of the big sixty-five-foot Queen Betty, where LeRoy was hunched over his nets. "Wind, too."
LeRoy grunted in agreement. "We oughta get a day's work in."
"A half day, at least."
"At least. I'm hopin' the rain flushes the shrimp down."
Bud waved and walked on. There wasn't time for small talk. Bud had known LeRoy all his life. LeRoy was second generation of a McClellanville family of African American shrimpers. Captain Simmons could bring in more shrimp on a blustery day than most other boats on a good day. Bud knew it took a lot more than luck.
Time was, a captain with the reputation of bringing home the shrimp had his pick of top crew because the strikers got a percentage of the day's catch instead of salary. Now the catch was unpredictable, if not downright pitiful. Too often, the crew got little money and drifted off to higher-paying jobs on land. It was damn near impossible for a captain to hire on decent crew.
In this, LeRoy was more than lucky, too. Bud glanced back at the Queen Betty to see LeRoy and his two brothers nimbly moving their fingers over the nets, searching for tears. The Simmons brothers worked together like a well-oiled machine. He grimaced, remembering the days when he and his brother had worked together. Poor Bobby.... Then he scowled, thinking of his own nets and the work that needed to be done before he could shove off. Where the hell was Pee Dee?
Peter Deery had been born to a dirt-poor farming family on the Pee Dee River, and the nickname stuck. For all the damage booze and drugs had done to his brain, Pee Dee was clean and sober on deck and as nimble as a monkey on the rigging. And he worked harder than two men. He was Bud's cousin once removed. Sometimes Bud wished he were more removed. A man couldn't pick his family, but a captain could pick his crew and Pee Dee was somewhere in the middle.
Bud's frown lifted when, through the mist and dim light, he spied the Miss Carolina waiting for him at the end of the dock. His chest expanded.
The Miss Carolina was a graceful craft, sleek and strong like the woman she was named for. He'd built the fiberglass and wood trawler with his own hands and knew each nook and cranny of her fifty-foot frame. He spent more time with this boat than with any woman alive, and his wife often complained that the Miss Carolina was more his mistress than his boat. He'd shake his head and laugh, inclined to agree.
Every spring he gave the Miss Carolina a fresh coat of glistening white paint and the berry-red trim that marked all the Morrison boats. Yes, she was a mighty pretty boat. His eyes softened just looking at her. All captains had their families and loved them dearly. Yet there was a special love reserved for their boats.
The morning's quiet was shattered by the roar of an engine coming alive. Bud swung his head around to see the Queen Betty drawing away from the dock and making her way out to sea, her green and white mast lights flashing in the dark. Ol' LeRoy would have his nets dropped by sunup, he thought with a scowl. Damn, he'd get the best spot, too.
Fifteen minutes later, the Miss Carolina's diesel engine was growling and Bud had a mug of hot coffee in his hand. He sat in the pilothouse, breathing in the scent of diesel fuel mingled with coffee, and listened to the marine radio for weather reports. The boat rocked beneath him, warming up and churning the water like a boiling pot. After finishing his coffee, he began his chores. There was always one more job that needed doing, one last repair he had to see to before he could break away from the dock. He needed to get ice in, fuel up, and get some rope.... Bud sighed and shook his head. He couldn't wait for Pee Dee to show up. He might as well get rolling. Bud climbed down from the boat to the dock.
A weathered warehouse with a green-and-red-painted sign that read COASTAL SEAFOOD dominated the waterfront. The warehouse was the heart of the dock where fishermen could get fuel, ice, and gear, then unload shrimp at the end of the day. Under its rusted awning a few men in stained pants and white boots stood smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups, and bantering while waiting to load ice. They grunted greetings as Bud moved past them. Inside, the big room was sparsely filled with a few metal chairs and tables and a rough plywood counter.
A young, broad-shouldered man with unruly dark hair leaned against the counter. He wore a denim jacket against the morning chill and white rubber boots high over his worn and stained jeans. He looked both boyish and edgy, with the congenial air of a man who is well liked. He turned when Bud approached and broke into a lazy grin.
"Hey, Bud," he called out.
"Hey, Josh," he replied, hearing the resignation in his own voice. He hadn't expected to see Josh Truesdale this morning.
"I was hoping I'd run into you," Josh said, straightening.
"Yeah?" Bud replied, stepping up beside him at the counter. Josh met Bud eye to eye. Bud narrowed his. "And why's that?"
Josh shook his head with a wry grin. "Don't look so worried, Cap'n. I ain't gonna launch into Lizzy now."
Bud barely suppressed his grin the kid had hit the nail on the head. His daughter was exactly the subject he was hoping to avoid. "You know I don't have nothin' more to say to you on that subject. You and Lizzy that's your problem. Not mine."
"I hear you," he replied. "But I got this other problem I was hoping you'd take a look at. My winch. Not my wench." He chuckled at his joke.
Bud's eyes flashed in warning. He didn't care for jokes about his daughter.
Josh's smile fell hard. "Sorry," he blurted. "You know I didn't mean no disrespect."
Bud liked Joshua Truesdale, always had. There weren't many young men going into shrimping these days. He could count the ones he knew on one hand. Most of the captains in these parts were too old and too stubborn to change their ways. Josh was one of a new breed of shrimpers. Though he came from an old line of fishermen in the Shem Creek area, Josh had ideas on how he could make the business pay. While Bud liked his enthusiasm, sometimes those new ideas made the kid a bit cocky. Still, Josh Truesdale was the best deckhand he'd ever had.
Even if he was the worst son-in-law.
"Well," Bud drawled, lifting his hand to signal to Tom Wiggins behind the counter, "I sure don't got the time to help you now."
Tom was a small, wiry man who looked to Bud like a gray squirrel, with his gray stained clothes, a wreath of gray, frizzy curls, and a beard that was as bushy as a squirrel's tail. Ol' Tom had worked this counter for as long as Bud could remember, and the thing of it was, he'd looked the same when Bud was a kid as he did now.
"Tommy, you got a couple hundred feet of three-quarter-inch rope back there?"
"Yeah, hold on and I'll get you some."
"What's the matter with your winch?" Bud asked, turning again to Josh.
"Keeps slipping. Has no tension."
"And what can I do?"
"I remembered how you jerry-rigged your winch."
Bud rubbed his jaw. Adjustments on equipment were common enough among captains. Especially among those who'd built their own boats to their own specifications, as he had. Bud didn't always have the money to buy a new part, or maybe he didn't even know what part could do the job he had in mind, so it called on him to be inventive. Most every boat had been rigged by its captain one way or another. It was a point of pride and gave a boat its personality.
"I'm always tinkering with that old winch," he replied. "But I don't rightly know that I can recall what I did to it."
"Come on, Bud. Everyone knows you're the best damn mechanic in these parts."
"That's for true," added Tom.
Bud scratched behind his ear with a self-conscious smile, not immune to flattery.
"Will this do?" asked Tom, handing over the rope.
Bud made a cursory inspection. "Yeah, it'll do. Put it on my tab."
Tom blanched and rubbed his neck. "Sorry, Bud. Can't do that. Everything's on a cash basis now."
Bud's head jerked up. "Since when?"
"Since nobody can pay their bills and they're falling behind. I don't mean you," he stammered. "But, hell, Bud, you know how the times are. I got no choice and I can't be making exceptions. That's the word I got direct from Lee, and I got to do it. Or I'd make one for you. You know that."
Bud's ears colored and he tightened his lips as a surge of anger shot through him. Lee Edwards had once been like a brother to him, but he'd proved to be more Cain than Abel, and there'd been bad blood ever since. It still burned that Lee had done so well over the years. He owned Coastal Seafood and just about all the preferred real estate along the docks. Bud hated to admit it, but Lee was a good businessman. If the shrimp boats failed, Lee would still be sitting pretty.
Bud silently cursed. His haul was hardly worth a day's wage, and that was before taxes. Hell, Lee and his pals probably spent more on lunch than Bud earned in a day. Running a tab at the fish house was how most fishermen made it through a rough patch. Most every shrimper in town was in hock to Lee, and it gnawed at Bud that he was one of them.
"Well, shit, Tom," he said, struggling to keep his anger in check. "I didn't plan on buying rope this morning and I don't have enough cash on me."
"Here, let me," Josh said, pulling a worn black leather wallet from his back pocket.
"No way," Bud said gruffly. "I don't need your money. I can pay my own bills."
"I ain't saying you can't. I'm just lending it to you. No big deal. Besides, I owe you."
"You don't owe me nothing, son."
"I think you know I do." Josh's emotion was too strong and he cleared his throat. "You can take it as a down payment for working on my winch."
Bud struggled with a reply. He'd never take a handout, but this seemed fair and he needed that rope now.
"I reckon I could come by and take a look at that winch later today or tomorrow, weather depending."
"Yes, sir. Anytime."
Bud nodded, grateful for Josh's respectful tone. And the kid had a winning smile. It must've been the dark tan that made his teeth shine so white. He wasn't blind to the fact that his daughter still thought so, too.
Josh laid out bills on the plywood counter.
Tom gingerly handed the rope into Bud's hands, relieved to have the transaction settled amicably. "Sorry about that. Nothin' personal."
"Yeah, sure," Bud murmured. "You tell Lee Edwards he can stick his policy where the sun don't shine. Nothin' personal." Bud hoisted the rope and turned to leave.
"Where's your boy?" Josh asked, tucking his wallet back into his pocket. "Don't you usually send Pee Dee on these errands?"
"Ain't seen him," Bud replied, walking out.
"He's probably on some bender again," Josh remarked. "What a loser."
Bud turned fast and walked back toward Josh. No matter what Bud might think or say about his own, he wouldn't allow anyone else to slander them, not even Josh.
Josh took a step back as Bud leaned close. In a low voice, he said, "Pee Dee and the Miss Carolina aren't your concern anymore. Nor, for that matter, is my daughter. Got that?"
Josh straightened his spine and locked eyes with Bud. "Lizzy is my concern. But I'm sorry for what I said about Pee Dee."
Bud considered Josh's words, impressed by his unflinching gaze. He remembered the boy, but this depth of feeling reflected a man. Maybe the kid grew up some in the five years since Lizzy dumped him. Bud acknowledged Josh's apology with a curt nod and stepped back.
"I'll come by your boat later."
He adjusted the rope, then walked out, but not before he heard Tom mutter to Josh, "Boy, ain't you learned your lesson yet?"
By force of will, Bud shoved the roiling thoughts about Pee Dee, Lizzy, and Josh into a far corner of his mind to deal with later when the nets were dragging and he had time on his hands. Thinking about all that was like dredging the mud. Right now he had to clear his head and focus. Without Pee Dee here, it'd take twice as long. He still had to load the ice and more work to get done than time to do it.
Bud put his back to it. As each minute passed, with each chore he ticked off his list, Bud's anger was stoked till it fired a burn in his belly. He knew in his heart that Josh was right and that Pee Dee was likely on some bender. He ground his teeth, feeling the betrayal of the no-show.
A short while later, the roar of engines sounded and he jerked up to look out over the bow. The final two boats slowly cruised along the narrow creek toward the Atlantic. Josh's small but sturdy forty-five-footer, the Hope, followed in the bigger boat's wake. Clever boy, he thought with grudging respect. With his smaller boat and his ideas for niche markets, he might do all right.
Bud cleared his throat and spat into the ocean. But there was a lot of life left in this salty old dog, he thought, rolling his shoulders. He'd match his experience against some young Turk any day. Bud pressed the small of his back while his brows gathered. At times the pain was so severe it felt like a hot iron was being jammed into his lower lumbar.
Time was wasting. It was already late. Bud crossed his arms while he mulled over the pros and cons of the decision that faced him. The dawn was fast approaching. He couldn't wait for Pee Dee any longer. Could he go it alone?
It'd be tough to take a boat this size out alone. But he'd done it before, hadn't he? Bud cast a wary glance at the drifting clouds. He wasn't fooled by the seeming serenity. His experienced eye knew they were the tips of a rain front likely to hit sometime later that afternoon. At least, he hoped the rain would hold off till then. God knew, he desperately needed a good haul today, and it would be easier to get in and unload before the first drops fell.
No doubt about it. It would be a risk out there alone if the wind picked up. But he'd only be out for one haul. He'd be back in dock before things got rough.
Bud brought his arms tight around his chest and narrowed his eyes. To his mind, a man worked hard to take care of his family. He did whatever he could, whatever toll it took. With or without a crew, he was the captain of this vessel, and it was his duty to bring home the shrimp. He leaned forward, gripping the railing tight, and stared out at the dock. He only needed to bring in one good haul to pay the diesel fuel bill. One good haul, he repeated to himself, and he could keep his boat on the water.
What choice did he have? Failure would mean the loss of everything he'd worked so hard for.
Bud tugged down the rim of his cap, his decision made.
"Well, all right then." Copyright © 2009 by Mary Alice Kruesi
Reading Group Guide
Last Light over Carolina
Mary Alice Monroe
On an otherwise ordinary day in a small shrimping village off the coast of South Carolina a boat goes missing. The entire town rallies as all are mobilized to find the lost vessel. Throughout the course of one day, flashbacks of Bud Morrison, the captain injured at sea, and Carolina, his wife who anxiously waits for his return, reveal the happier days of a once-thriving shrimping industry juxtaposed with the memories of their long term marriage. Through wonderfully evocative storytelling and keen insights into the human heart, Mary Alice Monroe intimately portrays the complex and emotional relationships shared among family, friends, and the natural world that sustains us all.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. In chapter one, we see Bud Morrison making his way through a typical morning on the McClellanville docks. What does this scene tell you about his relationships with family and friends, and about the citizens of McClellanville?
2. Bud and Carolina live in one of the old, grand homes of McClellanville. What does White Gables mean to Carolina, and to Bud? Discuss the significance of living in a home—or in a town—where generations of your family before you have lived. How does this fact both buoy and drag down the inhabitants of White Gables and of the town?
3. On pages 89-90, Lizzy’s friend and employer, Nancy, gives her relationship advice and reminds her that shrimping families stick together. “It’s our way,” she says. Where else does this clannish sentiment appear throughout the novel? Identify the moments in which it is expressed or thought and discuss how it relates to the situation at hand. How do you feel about it as an explanation for certain behavior or opinions?
4. This novel explores the challenges of a long term marriage. Joseph Campbell wrote:
Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married.”
Discuss this quote in context of Bud and Carolina’s marriage, and in long term marriages in general.
5. Carolina’s father makes clear he disapproved of her marriage to Bud. Compare and contrast Mr. Brailsford’s reaction with Bud’s feelings about Josh and Lizzy. Do you agree or disagree with Bud’ decision to fire Josh after the fiasco in Florida? How do you feel about Lizzy’s and Carolina’s accusation, that he is in part to blame for ruining Josh and Lizzy’s marriage? In what ways might this be true or untrue?
6. Themes of love and hope run through the novel. Identify some of the ways in which these emotions play a role in the character’s lives and influence the decisions they make. How does love play a role in forgiveness? Compare and contrast the theories various characters, such as Carolina and Lizzy, have on love.
7. In part, an old community with a long standing sense of tradition brings with it fixed values that in time become old fashioned and maybe even inappropriate. Identify the ways in which women’s roles are defined in McClellanville. How do the women meet or defy the expectations of their community? How do you see male/female conflict or collaboration at work in the novel?
8. Carolina tells Bud that she chooses to be a shrimper just as she chose to return to McClellanville, believing she knows the lifestyle she’s signing up for by becoming Bud’s wife. How did her choices turn out? Do you think she was deluding herself all along? Was she simply young? Or did things change? Or is it as Mr. Dunnan suggests—that it isn’t change itself, but “it’s all in how we face it.” (p.151)
9. On page 114, Bud proudly informs Mr. Brailsford that the shrimpers have “an exclusive club” of their own with their own code. Based on the author’s portrayal of this community, what would you say some of the rules of this code are? Do these rules have a pragmatic purpose? Discuss in terms of how the community of shrimpers respond to Bud being “overdue” at the docks.
10. Carolina marks the beginning of her marriage’s slow decline as the years Bud began building the Miss Carolina. Why? What changes between them during this time? What happens—besides Bud’s accident—that finally helps them find their way back to one another?
11. What “old resentment” (p 4) keeps Bud from kissing Carolina goodbye the morning he leaves for work? In what he believes to be his final moments on Earth, what does he finally admit to himself about that regretted morning choice?
12. We see Bud struggling to maintain consciousness on page 292, shouting out to the Miss Carolina about the unfairness of his situation. But though he begins by talking to the vessel, he ends by saying, “I loved you, Carolina. And you betrayed me.” Do you think he is still talking to the boat, or to his wife Carolina? Explain why Bud feels he has been betrayed. Do you agree or disagree? Who else betrays or is betrayed in the novel?
13. Bud journeys through several emotional stages as he approaches the possibility of death. Dr. Kubler-Ross describes these stages of grief as: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Discuss Bud’s process, as well as his enlightenment at the story’s end concerning his relationship with his wife, his family, life.
14. Near the conclusion of the novel, we see the inhabitants of McClellanville celebrate the Blessing of the Fleet, a ritual the author describes as “based on the belief that all people were called upon by God to be good to one another and responsible stewards of the earth.” (p 361). Yet the shrimpers of McClellanville express hostility toward the Department of Natural Resources, a group devoted to conservation efforts in the region. Discuss why shrimpers and DNR and other government officials sometimes clash.
15. As deeply as their love and shared history connects them, Bud and Carolina still see things very differently. What effect does the presentation of both their perspectives have on the story? How does it affect your reading experience? Why do you think the author also chose to include sections from Lizzy’s point of view? Discuss the points of connection between perspectives and how they do or do not line up.
16. Mr. Dunnan tells Lizzy that sometimes change is just a second chance. Who gets a second chance in this novel and who doesn’t? How do these opportunities change or fail to change people’s lives?
Tips to Enhance Your Bookclub
- Celebrate the livelihood of McClellanville’s shrimpers by treating your book club to shrimp cocktails at your next meeting. Better yet, have everyone prepare and bring a different shrimp dish to share. You can find some southern recipes for shrimp at http://southernfood.about.com/od/shrimprecipes/a/top_shrimp.htm.
- Every town or region has pride in its heritage, whether it’s an annual produce-based festival or emphasis on supporting a local industry. Find out what your area considers part of its historical identity and share a piece of that with your book club via a brief presentation, photos, or something tangible such as a recipe or product you can show.
- The author’s website features “Journals” illustrated by photographs of her beloved South Carolina low country. Get a real vision of the setting for Last Light over Carolina and learn more about the author by visiting her website at www.maryalicemonroe.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I've read all of Mary Alice Monroe's novels, and always wait with bated breath for the next one. Though it seems impossible, since each new story is a sparkling gem, each of her novels seems to be better than the one before. Her writing flows so smoothly there's not even a hiccup between current day and flashbacks and then back again. Congratulations, Ms. Monroe---you make the South Carolina coast come alive for those folks who've never been there.
This is a learning experience with the interesting backdrop of a shrimper way of life from all angles. I could smell the shrimp! This would not be my choice of a way to make a living but I enjoyed the storyline around it. This is a satisfying insight into relationships and all facets of love. A lot of problems are dealt with with great wisdom. Mary Alice Monroe certainly did her homework for this one! This was my first Monroe book but it won't be my last! I recommend highly!!! Another terrific book I enjoyed lately and one that I think would make a beautiful movie is EXPLOSION IN PARIS, by Pirrung....The wonderful reviews hooked ME!! ... EXPLOSION IN PARIS ....Also, THE LOST HOURS and WHISTLING IN THE DARK are two more that inspired me.
After reading the description I thought this book would be a lot like The Perfect Storm. I was wrong. It was a great story and a truly touching and emotional book. While the story's main plot revolves around Bud and the perilous situation he is in there is so much more to this one. As Bud and Carolina go through their day they recall memories from their past. Not all of them are good, but they all show how life can take it's toll on a marriage. How just loving someone may not always be enough and how the heart works in mysterious ways. The writing was great. Mary Alice Monroe did a great job capturing the dialect and portraying it in her writing. The two main characters are very well developed and the secondary characters aren't just two dimensional. The flashbacks were done perfectly and they didn't make the story feel choppy. Even at almost 400 pages it didn't really take me that long to read. The story keeps you connected and wanting to know more. This one was really good, I'm adding her last one to my To Read list!
I've read all of Mary Alice Monroe's books.This one is a departure from her earlier styles in that LAST LIGHT OVER CAROLINA is a story that unfolds during a one-day period. It would seem likely that the reader would have to leap from one character to another in order to capture the complete story in so compact a time-frame. However, the pages turn easily. And, the transition is seamless..from the story unfolding that day..to flashbacks...and back again. The family dynamic is believable...and, perhaps, sadly recognizable. But, in the end character, commitment, strength...and forgiveness are qualities that remain. What an optimistic note for all to remember in difficult, stressful times that test our personal relationships.
This book examines the life of a low country shrimper family. The stresses of a dangerous, low paying occupation are contrasted with the love of independence and traditions of a multi-generational family occupation. It is a story of love, tests and growth of a couple struggling to redefine their relationship. I honestly thought I would find the book boring. Boy, was I wrong! I grew up in a dying steel town and there were some surprising parallels between my past and the life of a commercial fisherman in a dying seacoast town. The characters were clearly defined, warts and all. The competition to earn a dollar and the incredible cooperation when danger threatened was eye opening and captivating. The desire to see your family safe and taken care of was another area of similarity. My own father worked in a job he hated to insure his family's thriving. Bud Morrison loved his occupation even when it failed to provide him with the wherewithal to support his family. The frustrated interplay between characters and their need to be responsible and often lonely and the want to be closer physically, mentally and emotionally was sometimes draining. You end up really feeling for these people and their life altering dilemmas. Monroe paints her environment with digital clarity; you can see the Miss Carolina in the Morrison colors, the smell of the sea and the discordant aromas of dying sea life and fresh ocean breezes. I think this story will resonate with practically anyone who has ever held a job that was both demanding and exhilarating. I saw people I knew in an industry I knew nothing about. The book moved me and surprised me for how much I enjoyed it. I highly recommend it.
Mary Alice Monroe has done it again, I have just started this book and I all ready love it. Proving once again that Ms. Monroe can sure write. Too bad she cant't write new books as fast as I can read them. This book has caught me and I can not put it down. So real, so caring, and warm. I am enjoying it so much I dont want it to end but cant stop readking it. as it keeps me enthralled.
I have followed Monroe's work for some years and have seen it deepen and mature from book to book. Her sense of place and relationships has always been sure and her depiction of the emotional states of her characters both sensitive and deft. With Last Light Over Carolina, Monroe once again draws attention to issues of vanishing resources and ways of life, describing the life of Shrimpers through both the female and male voice to great effect. She explores the differences between new love and a mature love with penetrating insight and brings each of her characters to a truer understanding of how they are complicit in their own downfall. There is greater suspense in this book about whether Bud and Carolina or Lizzy and Josh with their new-found understanding of themselves and their relationships will have an opportunity to change their lives. I think readers will find the conclusion to Last Light Over Carolina as emotionally satisfying and richly rewarding as the entire read. Pick it up, give it to a friend, tell others--you'll all be happy you did.
I enjoyed this book very much! Very easy to understand the characters and their feelings and why this book is a success.
I saw this book in a store on vacation in Charleston and thought it sounded interesting. That was an underestimate - this book was amazing! The writing is excellent, the plot is great, the character development is awesome - there was not one thing about this book I didn't love. I will certainly be seeking out other books by this author in the future.
Saw author on pbs recently and read it in 24 hours couldnt put it down live in coastal sc and it is right on will always buy local when i can and we all should it would be sad to lose this legacy
I thought this was overall a very good read. I picked it up from the library solely based on the cover. I have to say I wasn't sure I'd hang with it through the slow beginning that was filled with details I wasn't sure we needed right up front. But once the action started and you could see the plot, it kept me on the edge of my seat. I think anyone who has been married for more than a couple of years can relate to much of the plot. I found there were some very thought-provoking moments in this book, particlarly the reflections near the end by one character. (don't want to give away too much detail for those who want to read it.) I thought the most thought-provoking line was when faced with death, one character said that the only question that really mattered was "Was I loved and did I love in return?" We should all be so fortunate to realize that this before it is too late.
I really, really loved this book. I felt a close kinship with the 50-something ages of the main characters, and truly appreciated the perspective on what it takes to keep a marriage of over 30 years going strong. More than anything, I appreciated the thought that marriages can take some pretty hard knocks and still survive. Add to all of this a fascinating look into the modern-day shrimping business, and you have a great book. Highly recommend it for married folks, and for people interested in the heart of true low-country living in South Carolina.
Loved it...as usual
Excellent story...great characters...strong leadership I've message